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<p>As the Carolina Hurricanes approach the 2016-17 season, there are still a number of questions unanswered regarding the upcoming season. It is expected to be a spirited training camp with some key positions up for grabs. </p><br/>rn<p>With that in mind, the upcoming NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, September 16-20, will be a major opportunity for some of the exciting new talent to show what they can do and gain the attention of Ron Francis, Bill Peters, and the rest of the Canes brass. After all, Victor Rask, Noah Hanifin, Jacob Slavin, and Brett Pesce, are all recent examples of players who used this tournament as a launching pad to positions with the Canes. With Ron Francis placing his emphasis on building the talent pool for the Canes in recent years, including a bundle of high draft picks and some shrewd acquisitions of young talent for departing players, you can expect this year’s squad to be the strongest in some time.<p><br/>rn</p>So, who might we expect to standout in this year’s tournament?</p><br/>rn<p>Of course, the top prospect in the Hurricanes’ system, Sebastien Aho, will be unavailable for the Tournament, toiling for Finland in the World Cup of Hockey. Nonethless, it is a star-studded cast, for sure, led on defense by former high 1st rounder, Haydn Fleury, and junior star, Roland McKeown, acquired from LA in the Sekera deal a few years ago. Fleury, 6’3”/220 lbs, brings much-needed physicality to the Canes. He had a standout campaign with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, rounding out his game, and is clearly ready for the pros. My sense is that Fleury will start the season in Charlotte but will join the Canes permanently this season. McKeown is not far behind. A cerebral player, McKeown has strong offence skills with 12 points in 9 playoff games and will benefit greatly from his time with Charlotte coach, Ulf Samuelsson, in rounding out his game. He will also push for time with the Canes this year.</p><br/>rn<p>Goalie wise, all eyes will be on junior phenom, Alex Nedeljovic, who wrapped up his tenure in the OHL, leading Niagara’s playoff push and then was instrumental in Team USA’s Bronze medal run at the World Juniors. Nedeljovic is generally viewed as the Canes goalie of the future and will start his pro career in Charlotte, joining Daniel Althsuller and recently signed, Michael Leighton, in the Checker’s net.</p><br/>rn<p>Perhaps the most interesting battle is brewing in the forward ranks, where a number of players are trying to make the jump to the Canes. With the Hurricanes looking for more offence this season, this is the perfect opportunity for one of these offence-capable studs to crack the line-up. Topping the list is former Finnish flash, Aleksi Saarela, once an uber-prospect with the New York Rangers. Saarela, acquired in the Eric Staal trade, is a short, stocky centerman, who popped 20 goals in just 51 games in the Finnish Elite league and had an impressive performance at the World Juniors, with 7 points in 7 games. Elite Prospects has this to say about Saarela, "A dangerous offensive forward who creates energy through scoring chances. Possess good hockey sense as well as good hands and stickhandling ability." With the 3rd line center spot up for grabs, Saarela could challenge.</p><br/>rn<p>Valentin Zykov, acquired from LA for Kris Versteeg, was another uber-prospect, who lost his luster the last few seasons. Zykov was drafted early in the 2nd round by LA in 2013 after a monster rookie season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), where he won Rookie-of-the-year honors and Top Offensive Rookie, after scoring 40 goals and adding 35 helpers in the regular season and added another 10 goals in the play-offs for good measure. Injuries and a slow start to his pro career reduced his stock. Zykov has the size ( 6’1”/225 lbs) and tools to be a special player for the Hurricanes. NHL Central Scouting said this about Zykov his draft year. "He’s an unbelievable talent, scores the big goals. He’s going to be special." Zykov could surprise.</p><br/>rn<p>A couple of other intriguing prospects are Swede, Lucas Wallmark, and Junior star, Nicolas Roy, both centers who bring a solid 2-way game to the table. Wallmark has toiled in the Swedish Elite league for the past 3 seasons and is clearly ready for the North American pros. He culminated his tour with a strong playoff series, 7 goals in 11 playoff games, and is viewed as being a smart player, with great hockey sense and vision. The only knock has been concern for his skating but it has improved greatly the past 2 seasons and with 32 points in 48 games, his offence is starting to come. Roy, at 6’4”/208 lbs, is physically mature enough and skilled enough to be a legitimate contender for the Hurricanes line-up. Roy might be the steal of the 2015 draft, picked 96th after all indications in his early junior career were he would go in the top 10. After all, Roy was selected 1st overall in 2013 QMJHL draft and had a strong rookie season with 16 goals. However, a subpar season in 2014-5 cooled the interest. This past season, Roy put it all together, leading the circuit with 48 goals and ended with 90 points, good enough for 7th overall and was one of the top face-off men in the circuit. Clearly, a player on the rise.</p><br/>rn<p>As always, there are a couple of wildcards in the bunch. Sergei Tolchinsky, the new version of Nathan Gerbe, is back for his 3rd Tournament and made huge strides in the “A’’ with Charlotte during the 2nd half. Known as a player with incredible resolve, undrafted Tolchinsky has battled the odds from day one. Make no mistake, he has elite offensive skills and gave us a glimpse of that in a brief audition with the Canes. And, how about Julien Gauthier, drafted 21st by the Canes this year and at 6’4” and 225 lbs is certainly physically ready for the big show. "An explosive power forward, who boasts an elite-level skill package", says Elite Prospects. The Hurricanes brass are drooling over the possibilities, so keep an eye on him.</p><br/>rn<p>ESPN’s Corey Pronman rated the Hurricanes 5th overall in the NHL Prospect Ranking this year and with good reason. For the first time in living memory, the Canes’ cupboard is loaded with grade “A” prospects. Remember Boychuk, Terry, Jordan and Nash? Ouch! Thankfully, it’s a new day. Can’t wait to see Aho, Saarela, Roy, Gauthier, Zykov, Bean, Nedeljovic, et al, in the Hurricanes red, white, and black. The future looks bright, indeed.</p><br/>rn<p>Coming soon…2016-2017 Season Preview for the Canes.</p><br/>rn<p>Follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/CanesTR for all the latest rumors & scuttlebutt on the Canes.</p>
Filed Under:   Carolina Hurricanes   Francis   Peters   Aho   Rask   Hanifin  
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